Friday, November 02, 2012

Faint praise …

… Jonah Lehrer Wasn’t the Only Journalist Shaping His Conclusions -- New York Magazine. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

[Malcolm] Gladwell actually did give a talk, in 2004, at an academic conference devoted to decision-making. “Some people were outraged by the simplification,” remembers one attendee, who likes Gladwell’s work. Someone stood up and asked if he should be more careful about citing ­sources.
In reply, Gladwell offered another anecdote. A while back, he’d found out that the playwright Bryony Lavery’s award-winning play, Frozen, cribbed quotes from one of his stories. Though he might have sued Lavery for plagiarism, Gladwell concluded that, no, the definition of plagiarism was far too broad. The important thing is not to pay homage to the source material but to make it new enough to warrant the theft. Lavery’s appropriation wasn’t plagiarism but a tribute. “I thought it was a terrible answer,” says the attendee. “If there was ever an answer that was about rationalization, this was it.”

Gladwell actually has a point. Bach recycled his own work for The Well-Tempered Klavier, and borrowed some themes from Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer. Bach certainly made what he wrote new enough to warrant the borrowing. But in Bach's day originality was not main point of art.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. The amount and degree of righteous indignation towards Lehrer do indeed suggest a good deal of Schadenfreude - and what's more, an unwillingness to examine why we ourselves are so desperate to be original.

  3. Also, as Isaac newton famously said, "If I have seen further than other men it's because I have stood on the shoulders of giants." Any new idea develops in an ecosystem of existing ideas. What I take forward from a thought or idea depends as much on how that idea was given to me. Which is why the notion that any age is more advanced than a previous one is bollocks.

  4. Actually, Vikram, a book I have just read, Norman Cantor's Inventing the Middle Ages, includes as one of its epigraphs (or part of its Credo)

    "Like dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants, we see farther than they."
    -- Bernard of Chartres, northern France, ca. 1130

  5. Haha, Well you see, Newton improved upon that :)